SHANNON REED PORTRAIT

Guatemala

Shannon Reed

I wanted to share at least one picture of this gorgeous landscape even though I could not possibly capture its true beauty; it is absolutely magnificent here and these mountains seem to go on forever and ever... And ever ")

I'd never heard of Semuc Champey until the day we arrived. Golan, our friend and host, said, "Go - it's beautiful, you will love it." Yet, we still had no idea what IT was. We climbed up and up and up some more to a spot called Mirador (lookout)...

...and this is what we saw - breathtaking lagoons! Once we climbed back down, we stripped down to our underwear and swam in the one in the lower right corner; it felt amazing!

I see my grandmother everywhere - including the deep and secluded jungles of Central America...

This is in Lanquin - 16,500 people live here, many of whom are of Q'eqchi' Maya descent...

Golan's restaurant is being built in the center of Lanquin...

His is the red house above the restaurant...

Late morning and already very hot and humid...

As a mother, I understand her concern about a stranger taking pictures in the middle of the street...

...she must have said something to her daughter to make her turn back at me...

Every once in awhile, I'd get a smile ")

This was taken on the highway back to Guatemala City - Thursday is market day in many of the Guatemalan cities and towns...

I loved this one - the guy is pointing and the girls are leery, but the guy in the rear view mirror is giving me a big smile...

It was an amazing opportunity to go to Guatemala this past week, but I'm having so many mixed feelings about the experience because I didn't really honor these people when I was photographing them. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was just another seemingly greedy tourist taking pictures without truly understanding who they are, what their lives are like, or how they might feel having their picture taken.

As a photographer, I am always hungry to learn and study other cultures and the way I do that is by first listening, then asking questions - then taking pictures. I was not prepared for this trip; I did not study before I went - nor did I have enough time to sit and observe before snapping away. For this reason, I didn't take many pictures - I think guilt got the better of me.

I am sharing these because I wanted to document the experience for my own memory. The Mayans are beautiful and the lives they live are more difficult than I could ever possibly explain. Most, if not all, live in huts without electricity or running water and there is no education system for the children. Communication is a challenge even among the natives and, while Spanish is the national language, there are 22 Mayan tribes and each has their own language.

Resources and jobs are incredibly scarce and there is no governing infrastructure in place to keep things in check. It's not a visibly hostile environment, but an outsider would be foolish to let their guard down in Guatemala right now. As a tall, blonde, blue-eyed, American woman, I stood out - and not in a good way. The little girls seemed to like me (lots of smiles - very curious), but the others were wary so this, of course, added to my unease about taking pictures.

In a way, I sort of feel like we bulldozed our way through this trip. Not on purpose or by design, but the time and light restrictions imposed upon us made it difficult to ease into this experience and allow the necessary time to be humble observers (with cameras put away) and develop a proper understanding of their culture. I hope to go back one day and spend time with some of the Mayans in these tucked away communities - I am in awe of them and their lives and appreciate the reminder of how easy things really are in the U.S.